Friday, March 30, 2012

Concert Review: The Modern Art Tour in Cleveland, Ohio

It’s always a pleasure to see multiple bands I enjoy in the same setting, so I was excited to learn that SPEAK would be an opening act for Miniature Tigers during the local leg of the Modern Art Tour. Also performing were The Chain Gang of 1974 and Geographer.

The venue, Grog Shop, is a small and intimate place, with the stage leading directly into the audience. When we entered the room, SPEAK were still doing their warm-ups. They wrapped up quickly and we were left to wait. All of the bands mingled freely in the crowd, before, during, and after the show.

SPEAK took the stage at just after 8 and performed a crowd-pleasing set for a crowd to which they were mostly unknown. 


The high-energy songs from their album were joined by a couple of songs I didn’t recognize from the album as well as a cover of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” As with the SPEAK covers I've experienced in the past, the band added their own accents to the cover, speeding it up, and making it their own. They closed their set with “Stand By Us” and “Carrie.”

Up next was The Chain Gang of 1974, a group which didn't really sit well with me. Their very 80s synths became tolerable and almost good toward the end of the set, but the vocals and general attitude of the band didn't suit my tastes at all. 

The Chain Gang of 1974

Co-headliner Geographer took the stage and it was immediately clear that many patrons were there to see Geographer specifically. Lead singer Michael Deni performed beautifully, with a voice that was admittedly better than any other singer that evening. Geographer's lineup features drums, synths, and an electric cello (played by Nathan Blaz), which seems an interesting choice for a rock group.


Finally, Miniature Tigers came on around 11 o'clock. Miniature Tigers were quite lively. Lead singer Charlie Brand did a great job of engaging the crowd, competing with several now insanely drunk members of the crowd and the two guys from The Chain Gang of 1974 who were creating a ruckus in the audience. 

Miniature Tigers

 Photos by Gareth Sedam

Miniature Tigers performed most of the songs off of Mia Pharaoh, with a few songs from Fortress and "Cannibal Queen" thrown in. I think the near absence of songs from Tell It To The Volcano was a slight disappointment to some, but the set was impressive just as it was. Miniature Tigers closed their set at just after midnight and hung around to sign autographs and talk to fans. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Album Review: Mia Pharaoh by Miniature Tigers

Miniature Tigers have taken a sharp turn for the 70s in their new album Mia Pharaoh. Mia Pharaoh features a higher level of refined production and several songs with dance beats. These new sounds are not unpleasant, but slightly jarring for those familiar with their first two albums.

A new sound is evident from the very opening of "Sex On The Regular." "Female Doctor" keeps up the 70s feel, with the same retro synths, disco beats and falsetto vocals. On both "Sex On The Regular" and "Female Doctor," Charlie Brand seems to be channeling at least a little Kevin Barnes circa 2006-2008. "Cleopatra" starts to feel more like a song from an earlier album, both musically and due to the mystical concepts that Tell it to the Volcano and Fortress edged around. "Cleopatra" also features a mention of "your Fortress," which may or may not be a reference to the preceding album.

By track 4, "Afternoons with David Hockney," the traditional Miniature Tigers sound is very audible. "Afternoons with David Hockney" seems to borrow slightly from 1970s Paul Simon. David Hockney is an English artist who seems to be an influence on the designs for Miniature Tigers album art.

The sentiments in "Easy as All That" and "Flower Door" are beautiful and poetic. "Flower Door" features one of the many clever turns of phrase on the album, "to see through your disguise//you have worn so long it started wearing you."

"Boomerang" proves to be the most catchy and poppy song on the album. It was released as a single many months prior to the album release. "Boomerang" serves as the most effective mesh of Miniature Tigers' old sound with the new 70s influences.

The final three tracks slip deeply into a dream pop sound. "Ugly Needs" features vocals much like the earlier albums, and sweet lyrics. "Angel Bath" toys with Barry White style vocals. Mia Pharaoh closes up with "Husbands & Wives," the slow, floating vocals of which are a far cry from the dance beats found at the beginning of the album.

As a whole, the album flows smoothly from one song and tempo to another. I'm not sure that the clean production of this album is an improvement for the band.What they've lost isn't the ability to make a good song, but more their individuality from the rest of the music market. I suppose Mia Pharaoh, taken on its own is a good album. It's nothing to compare with Tell it to the Volcano, but if it's anything like Fortress in quality, it will grow on you more gradually.

Miniature Tigers are an indie rock outfit. Left to right: Algernon Quashie, Charlie Brand, 
Rick Schaier, and Brandon Lee.

Mia Pharaoh can be purchased here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I've Got This Covered: She & Him: Volume One

What would it be like if 60s artists were able to cover She & Him's Volume One? I think it would go something like this...

1) Sentimental Heart - Leslie Gore
The teen singer was always singing openly about her emotions. The clarity and tone of her voice are a great starter for the cover album, seeing as her voice is a near perfect match for that of Zooey Deschanel.
2) Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? - Nancy Sinatra
Although this is a little more upbeat than most of Sinatra's songs, I think her voice would suit it well. The abundance of tambourines is also reminiscent of "These Boots Are Made For Walking."

3) This is Not a Test - Bobbie Gentry
Although the guitar intro to this song reminds me more of George Harrison circa All Things Must Pass, I think the country-rock feel of the song along with the vaguely throaty vocals would be well suited to Gentry. Gentry's song "Seasons Come and Seasons Go" happens to feature a bass line similar to the keyboard part in "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" 

4) Change is Hard - Joan Baez
The tempo of "Change is Hard" along with the fact that it relies entirely on an acoustic guitar and vocals make it a perfect match for Baez.

5) I Thought I Saw Your Face Today - Marianne Faithfull
Faithfull has vocal clarity and talent for singing a sad song that "I Thought I Saw Your Face Today" can't survive without. 

6) Take It Back - Lulu
The strings in "Take It Back" are almost lifted straight from "To Sir With Love." Lulu would lend the entire song an intense power.

7) I Was Made For You - The Chiffons
I was originally trying to stick with female 60s solo artists, but several songs on Volume One really need to be covered by girl groups. "I Was Made For You" features female backing vocals reminiscent of 60s girl groups like The Chiffons. The range of the song suits The Chiffons better than other groups and there's a slight "wall of sound" quality to "I Was Made For You" that could be exaggerated in The Chiffons' cover.

8) You Really Got a Hold on Me - Mama Cass Elliot
It amazes me that Cass never seems to have covered this Smokey Robinson song in the first place,but it would be great to hear her sing it in the vain of "Dream a Little Dream of Me."

9) Black Hole -The Ronettes
I feel like this song needs "wall-of-sound." I can just hear Ronnie Spector wailing out the vocals with the rest of The Ronettes performing the required backing vocals.

10) Got Me - Dolly Parton
Parton's sweet voice and 60s country sound are the only things that would do a cover of this song justice.

11) I Should Have Known Better - Johnny Cash and June Carter
For this cover of the Lennon/McCartney masterpiece, I wanted a male and female country duo who could carry the country/Hawaiian elements She & Him added into their cover version. Who better than Cash and Carter?

12) Sweet Darlin' - The Crystals
To close the album, we have yet another 60s girl group brought to you by Phil Spector. The key is great for The Crystals and the song already seems to feature the "wall of sound."

That's how I think it should go down. Questions? Better ideas? Drop me a comment. Or if you're a time traveler that has magical powers over artists, feel free to make this happen. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Album Review: Roses by The Cranberries

There is a certain level of difficulty involved in the creation of a new album after an eleven-year break. People will have strange and/or unrealistic expectations and the nature of the music world will have changed so much over the intervening time that there is a strong chance of either sounding as though you're trying too hard to sound modern or too hard to retain your old sound.

Somehow, this is not a problem for The Cranberries. In Roses, they have retained a sound consistent with their earlier days, as well as sounding perfectly at home in the modern music market. It wouldn't sound strange to hear one of these songs on a modern radio station. The timeless sound may come from the fact that the band has always been just left of mainstream music anyway, or from the fact the The Cranberries remain unafraid of relying on instruments for their musicality, which prevents some of the problems caused when dated-sounding synths are incorporated.

Roses starts off with "Conduct," a song very reminiscent of their earlier work. "Conduct" is powerful and memorable, with the floating vocals that are Dolores O'Riordan's trademark. Following "Conduct" is "Tomorrow," the lead single from the album. "Tomorrow" has more radio power than any other song on the album by a long shot. It's a pity that the video concept isn't stronger:

"Fire & Soul" is lighter and quieter, but features one of my favorite lines on the album: "I'll wait for you forever//I'll take you to my grave." One of the weakest songs is "Raining in My Heart," which isn't a bad song, so much as one that has nothing particularly outstanding about it. "Losing My Mind" is catchier, but lacks the sound for modern radio. Another song that has a throwback feel is "Schizophrenic Playboys," which also has a different tone and subject than any other song on the album. "Waiting in Walthamstow" and "Show Me" are reasonably good songs, but are almost more like support for the rest of the album. Lyrically, "Astral Projections" is intriguing. I know it would have been my favorite track when I was a teenager, just due to the concept.

To wrap up the album, "So Good" and "Roses are introduced. "So Good" is much more complex than the title track. The lyrics are evocative and the melody sweet, but "Roses" is strangely negative considering that it is the last song on the album

Overall, Roses is a good album, but not a great album. The songs are pleasant, the lyrics are eloquent and smart, and the vocals are flowing. The downfall of the album is that there is nothing that truly "pops." I would recommend Roses if you want something nice to listen to, but don't expect it to be the album of the year.

The Cramberries are an Irish rock group formed in 1989. Left to Right: Dolores O'Riordan, 
Mike Hogan, Fergal Lawler, and Noel Hogan.

 Roses can be purchased here.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

In Memoriam: David Jones

We had to know it was coming sometime. It's simply the length of time that came as a shock. Davy was my favorite for at least the first few years of my Monkees fanship. Somewhere around twelve or so, I began to call my favorite Monkee position a tie between Mr. Jones and Michael Nesmith. But Davy was my first favorite.

That it was so unexpected has to be the thing that makes it the hardest. When Peter Tork was diagnosed with cancer, I was frightened of losing him, but began to prepare myself at least. But maybe it's like the Band-Aid theory: a quick removal hurts the worst, but also for the shortest amount of time, because you aren't lingering over it for ages before it actually happens.

Whatever the case, I will always think of Davy with the same love I had at eight years old, dancing around on a stap-ladder in my room, whilst playing the records for the six-millionth time and singing along with lyrics that were sometimes right, sometimes misguided.

I'm selfishly disappointed that I'll never get to see all four of them together onstage (which was very unlikely anyway, but still). At least I got to see and meet Davy, Peter, and Micky Dolenz on tour last Summer. I got my metal lunchbox signed. Davy asked if I was going to school, a joke I did not immediately catch on to. Then he told me that I should be careful or somebody would "nick" my lunchbox, what with it being so cool. And I got a photo with him. I was obviously over-joyed.

You can't bring back the dead, nor would you really want to. It's a very natural cycle and everything, it's just a surprise when it happens.